Viral Ad: Why These 6 Ads Went Viral According to Jonah Berger

Samuel Hum
Samuel Hum
June 19, 2014
2 min read
Viral Ad: Why These 6 Ads Went Viral According to Jonah Berger

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When we talk about viral content, what usually comes to mind?

What Does The Fox Say? Gangnam Style? Cat videos?

These are videos that have been watched and shared millions of times worldwide and are great examples of viral content.

But how exactly did these videos become viral? And how can you create content that will be shared by thousands, or even millions? Jonah Berger might have the answers to that.

A professor or marketing at Wharton University, Berger specializes in the study of word of mouth, or social epidemics. He has studied what constitutes to a content's 'virality'; why some content gets shared much more than others.

Based on more than 10 years of research, Berger identified 6 key principles of what makes content viral (STEPPS for short):

  • Social currency - we share what makes us look good.
  • Triggers - we share what's at the top of our minds.
  • Emotion - we share what we care about.
  • Public - we imitate what we see people around us are doing.
  • Practical value - we share things that have value to others.
  • Stories - We share stories, not information.

Here are 6 ads that demonstrates a sound understanding of these principles:

Social Currency: Google's "How it feels" Glass ad shows how cool and tech-savvy you are.

When we share something cool with others, we subconsciously want to show that we are in-the-know of the latest and coolest content. That's what social currency is about.

And what better way to show that you're cool by sharing a video of the magical Google Glass?

In terms of wearable tech, Google Glass sits right up there as being the coolest of the cool. This video doesn't just show the Glass; it shows you just how it feels like to wear one.

Most of us shared this video because it looked so cool, and perhaps because we subconsciously wanted to show that so are we.

I know I did.

More examples: Your Friends Will Be Sooo Impressed! 15 Examples of Social Currency Used in Marketing

Triggers: Geico's Hump Day ad makes you think of Geico on Wednesdays.

When we think of Wednesdays, we think of 'Hump Day'. And which animal has humps? Camels.

Watch how Geico, an auto insurance company, manages to make us think of them at least once every week with Caleb the camel:

Geico created a link between their brand and Wednesdays with this ad, so any mention of 'Wednesday' or 'hump day' would trigger the memory of the laughing camel.

The ad is funny, and the following Youtube views stats shows how effective the trigger is:

Geico Hump Day Youtube views chart
Note the sharp spikes every Wednesday? Stats by Unruly Media.

Other examples of day-of-the-week contextual triggers are Rebecca Black's "Friday" video or the restaurant T.G.I. Friday's.

It is important to pick the right trigger for you ad or content. Having it occur at frequent enough timings is an important point to consider.

Creating an ad or campaign that revolves around Christmas might be a good idea, but bear in mind that people will only think about it once a year.

More examples: Gotta Get Down On Friday: 13 Examples of Triggers Used in Marketing

Emotion: P&G's "Thank you, Mom" ad reminds us how great our mums are.

One of the biggest ingredients in viral videos are emotions. We share something that we feel a lot for. The Google Glass ad makes us feel a sense of awe, while Geico's Hump Day ad makes us laugh.

P&G has used a different emotion to make us share:

If you held back some tears while watching that video, the ad has worked. It not only touches us, but also gives us a heartwarming reminder to be grateful to our mothers.

P&G is well known for producing household products, of which mothers are likely their biggest consumers. I liked how P&G did not show any of their products or brand logos until the end, where the message has already gone through: Mums are awesome.

More examples: Literally Arousing – 15 Examples of Emotional Marketing

Public: Apple's white earphone cables made all of us want to own a pair just to show off.

In the early 2000's, most earphone cables were black. Everything changed the moment Apple released their iconic ad for their iPod and iTunes.

Contrasting dark human silhouettes with white earphones dancing to various tracks, everyone noticed the white earphones.

They started to link white earphones with Apple iPods and being "hip":

It turned out to be a big hit.

People started to identify Apple iPod users purely based on the color of their earphones.

They also began to imitate others who had one. Everyone started to want an iPod, or at least the white earphones!

More examples: Monkey See, Monkey Do: 10 Examples of Public Visibility Used in Marketing

Practical Value: Dollar Shave Club's ad teaches you how to save money: with their $1 blades.

The Dollar Shave Club has a mission: to help you save money on blades.

By buying their blades for just $1 per month, you can save loads of money that would otherwise go into shavers with tech you don't need.

According to them, their $1 dollar blades aren't any good; they're f***ing great:

For anyone who watches this video, they'd probably want to either buy it for themselves, or share it with others who might need one.

$1 shavers are really cheap; why wouldn't anyone want to share their friends and family to benefit? That's exactly why this ad is effective.

More examples: Glad To Be Of Service! – 10 Examples of Providing Practical Value in Marketing

Stories: GoPro's 'Fireman saves kitten' ad tells a touching story of connection and healing.

We tell stories all the time; it is a great way to share information and experiences. Although not all stories are told with an agenda, there is always some meaning embedded within one.

In the case of GoPro's "Fireman saves kitten" video, it tells a story of a fireman who saves an unconscious kitten in a house on fire, and how he manages to resuscitate it.

This story is awe-inspiring, but it has one very important element: this video wouldn't have been possible if not for the GoPro camera on the fireman's helmet.

The narrative in this video carries the subtle message that GoPro enables us to see things from very different perspectives. We've seen skateboarders, skydivers and other extreme sports enthusiasts wear them, but this video shows us a different perspective. A different, yet very real kind of danger.

And that's what makes this video so viral.

More examples: Once Upon a Time… – 12 Examples of Narratives Used in Marketing

The 6 STEPPS to making contagious content:

Berger's research has found that these 6 principles are embedded within human psychology, that we are naturally wired to share certain kinds of information. We are suckers for humor, cool technology, and cats (they fall under social currency and emotion).

As Berger mentions in his book, 'Contagious: Why Ideas Catch On':

Virality isn't born, it's made.

While this post featured 6 ads, Berger has stated that these STEPPS are applicable for all forms of content: information, branding, emails, etc.

Samuel Hum
Samuel Hum

As a finalist in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man contest, Samuel is ReferralCandy's fashion eCommerce expert and resident sartorialist. He is obsessed with human behavior, social psychology, and handstands. He is also the lead calisthenics trainer at Weightless.

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